Moving to and Living in Los Angeles [Insider's Guide]
This article was updated on December 14, 2021
Are you thinking of moving to Los Angeles? If the city's population is any measure of how much people like it, there's substantial evidence that living in Los Angeles is pretty great. 4 million people live within the city limits, and 18.7 million reside in the Greater Los Angeles area. But what is living in Los Angeles *really* like - the people, attitudes, culture, and economic opportunity.
Can you hack big-city living? Do you like warm, sunny weather? If so, here are some of the main reasons why moving to Los Angeles may be a good fit for you (or not)!
The People You’ll Meet in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is a melting pot on a grand scale. In fact, all of Southern California is ethnically and culturally diverse; the people who live here come from everywhere. SoCal residents come from 180 countries and speak 140 languages. If you move to Los Angeles, your neighbors might be from halfway around the world or just the next state over.
Richard Wyatt's "City of Dreams/River of History" at Historic Union Station
Being a newcomer to Los Angeles is nothing new. Starting with contact between the area's First Peoples and Spanish explorers in 1542, to the first settlement in 1781, and up to the present day, L.A. has consistently grown via an influx of immigrants.
That's why there are as many versions of Los Angeles as there are Angelinos. Each has their reasons for coming here and perspectives on why it's a great place to call home. The West Coast has always been a place for dreamers and entrepreneurs and Los Angeles is still that way today, the modern American frontier.
Quick fact: Los Angeles does not have a majority population.
- 48.6% Latino
- 25.9% White Non-Hispanic
- 7.7% Black or African American
- 14.5% Asian
- 2.4% from two or more races
- 0.2% Native American and Alaskan Native
- 0.2% Pacific Islander
- 0.4% Other Race
Source: 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimate
Cost of Living in Los Angeles
Using an indexed score put together by the U.S. Census Bureau, where the average U.S. City is 100, the cost of living in Los Angeles scores 136.
What is similar to other cities is the price of groceries, utilities, health care, and transportation. The greatest difference is the cost to put a roof over your head. The housing index for Los Angeles is 207.
Only a handful of places like New York City, Honolulu, Orange County (surprisingly), and San Jose have higher housing costs. Nearby San Diego is not far behind and is consistent with the broader story the data reveals: folks pay more to rent or buy homes in coastal cities.
Of course, within major cities, there are always high-end neighborhoods and exclusive enclaves, too. Some of Los Angeles’ most expensive neighborhoods have luxury homes -- sometimes priced over $100M -- that are out of reach to all but the very wealthy.
Los Angeles Lifestyle
First Impressions: Living in Los Angeles
After moving to Los Angeles, one of the first things you'll notice is the alarming number of people hanging out in cafes during business hours. You might ask yourself on a Monday at 11:00 am, "Why are so many people not at work? Does anyone have a job in this town?"
Many careers in Los Angeles – from entertainment to fashion – aren't typical, year-round, 9-to-5 gigs. For example, those who work in theater plays, films, and television shows work seasonally. The production side of the entertainment business has stretches of downtime (weeks or even months), giving folks a lot of freedom. You'll see a lot of people roaming around L.A. at the time of day you'd typically expect people to be hidden away in an office building.
Plus, not every occupation even requires an office. A lot of writers peck away at their laptop keyboards in cafes. Actors tend to move around during the day, too, going to auditions and then earning their rent money waiting tables at night.
You'll also come to realize that not everyone here works in "the industry" (a shorthand term for the entertainment business). There are many other employers and job opportunities in town, covered below.
If you’re moving to Los Angeles, no doubt you’ll notice the laid-back California style. The "chill" attitude prevails everywhere, regardless of position or profession.
The dress code here is informal. People go to work and go out for a night on the town in jeans. T-shirts and flip-flops are commonplace. You might even say the casual dress code here is a form of camouflage. You never know who that guy sitting next to you in the dive bar -- with a scruffy beard, wearing the jean jacket -- might be. He could be a big-time motion picture producer. Watch him when he leaves. He'll be the guy in the valet line picking up his Range Rover.
Do you think I’m kidding about valet parking at a dive bar? We even have a complimentary valet at Denny’s!
Valet Parking is Everywhere in Los Angeles
Despite the laid-back attitude, people here do manage to dress nicely. After all, L.A. is home to very influential fashion designers and apparel manufacturers. The city is rife with fashionistas.
Being laid back has a few drawbacks. Angelinos are known to be flaky. It's normal for people to show up late to parties or not show up at all, even if they've RSVP'd. "Hey, man, I was going to show up to your party, but the swells at Zuma Beach were epic, and we surfed past sunset."
Swing your yoga mat in any direction, and you will hit a yogi or yoga studio. They are everywhere! If it's healthy or trendy, you'll find it in Los Angeles. Need an organic juice fix? There's a juice bar right around the corner. Want to join a Crossfit gym? Which one?
L.A. is the kind of place that encourages anything new and healthy, a fairly typical mindset for the entire West Coast. Depending upon your tolerance for trendiness, you might find the constant introduction of the latest diet and exercise fads as a minor but regular annoyance. People here love to try and talk about "what's new." Here's a re-usable joke, one to keep in your quiver and pull out whenever you need it. Just substitute any "healthy lifestyle" word below:
Q: How do you know your friend is [vegan/paleo/loves kale/does Crossfit]?
A: They’ll tell you.
Fads aside, one thing everyone can agree upon is the value of an excellent local farmer's market. And Los Angeles has a ton of them. In fact, there are so many that the Los Angeles Times created a searchable database.
Given the combination of healthy lifestyles and a production mindset in this town, one would have to believe the parody video "Yoga Girl" was inevitable. Watching it is worth every second and a few laughs.
Sitting in traffic is a big, unfortunate part of living in Los Angeles. While the City of Los Angeles increases the number of subway lines and Metro ridership slowly increases, cars are still the modi operandi.
You might be asking yourself why "traffic" falls under the "lifestyle" section of this article? It's because you will spend so much of your life in your car, stuck on the 101, 405, 605, 110, or 210 (to name just a few). Oh! That's another thing: people here refer to freeways by number, not by name.
Living in Los Angeles means dealing with traffic congestion all the time. Freeways are jammed with regular Monday thru Friday commuters but don't expect any relief on weekends. People drive everywhere, every day. You can quickly get stuck on the Southbound 101 on a Saturday morning. Here's traffic for a typical evening commute. For perspective, the scale for the image below is about 50 miles wide.
Traffic in Los Angeles is Very Heavy During Commuter Hours
I have only one rule regarding L.A. traffic, and all of my friends and family who come to visit me know it: if you want me to drive you around (sightseeing, etc.), it must take place between 10 am to 2 pm. That means I'm happy to pick you up or drop you off at the airport or play tour guide while you are here as long we do it in that midday window. For folks moving to L.A., from another city, or merely across town, HireAHelper has some data that suggests a similar time window as the best time of day to move.
Gnarly traffic makes getting together with friends for a drink or dinner harder than it would be in San Francisco or New York. Los Angeles is very spread out, which affects everything. Want good food and a place to hang with your pals? You can have it, but you will work for it. In New York or San Francisco, you're never more than a short walk or a couple of subway stops from a great, casual neighborhood restaurant or bar. In Los Angeles, you will get in your car and drive (or use a ride-sharing service) for a night out. Going anywhere takes effort.
Quick fact: 68% of people in LA drive to work alone.
The arrival of motorized scooters like Bird and Lime has made it much easier to make short hops around the neighborhood and get to local transit hubs. They solve one of the biggest challenges for urban planners; they mitigate the "last mile" problem by making it easier for people to get to a transit stop who live just beyond walking distance from it.
The Food Scene in Los Angeles
Now that you know the level of effort it takes for a night out on the town, let's talk about the food itself. Every major city in the United States has expensive restaurants you can go to for special occasions. Los Angeles has no shortage of places to throw around money on fine dining.
But a better measure of a city's food scene is the "everyday" places you meet friends or co-workers to relax. Even though going out in Los Angeles often requires travel, don't fret. Among L.A.’s best neighborhoods, you'll find pockets of ethnic and mom ‘n pops restaurants that are on par or better than other cities.
Some neighborhoods are the cultural focal point for specific immigrant groups, which, as luck will have it, means you can find a high concentration of ethnic fare. Here are some must-visit neighborhoods brimming with gastronomic opportunities.
- Thai Town - Thai
- Koreatown – Korean
- Boyle Heights - Hispanic
- Little Ethiopia - Ethiopian
- Tehrangeles – Persian (Tehran + Los Angeles = Tehrangeles)
- Little Armenia (or Glendale) - Armenian
- Little Tokyo (or Gardena or Sawtelle) - Japanese
- Chinatown (or Monterey Park) - Chinese
Koreatown Restaurants are Top Notch. Some Offer All You Can Eat (AYCE) Pricing
You need to know a couple more things about the Los Angeles food scene that set this city apart from all others.
Sushi? No other city in the United States compares to the availability and quality of sushi found in Los Angeles. You will not find better sushi outside of Tokyo. Period. While differing opinions on sushi are your constitutional right, no intellectually honest person would dare waiver from the thought that L.A. is not sushi heaven.
Pizza? New Yorkers living in L.A. complain about the lack of good pizza here. Getting a slice in Los Angeles is not the same experience as in N.Y.C. New Yorkers frequently and repeatedly air their pizza grievances. Yet if they leave for any period of time, they'll admit how much they miss L.A.'s fantastic sushi, Thai food, tacos, or Korean barbecue. If you're moving to Los Angeles from New York, you're trading away good pizza but getting many other culinary treats in exchange. It's an excellent trade. Your East Coast pizza isn't going anywhere; you can get a slice on your next trip home for the holidays.
Burgers? What's the first stop an Angelino or savvy tourist makes when they fly into BUR or L.A.X.? In-N-Out Burger! Even vegetarians living in Los Angeles admit their #1 Kryptonite is stuffing one's face with a "Double-Double, animal style." Check out In-N-Out's not-so-secret menu that lets you modify an order to your liking.
Working in Los Angeles
When you think of Los Angeles, show business might be the first thing that comes to mind, but the city is economically diverse like its people. This is where technology and fashion entrepreneurs grow their businesses from scratch into global brands. Big brands you know and love have deep roots and are headquartered here, ones you know and love like Tesla, Nestle, Honda, and Dole Foods.
Here are the major sectors of economic activity:
- Information Technology
- Aerospace & Defense
- Hospitality & Tourism
- Marketing, Design & Publishing
The Entertainment Business
When you peel back the most visible, outward-facing layers of the entertainment business, you'll realize most jobs in "the industry" are behind the scenes.
Motion picture studios and theme parks have familiar big-company departments like accounting, human resources, facilities management, fleet management, etc. These are the everyday occupations that make L.A.'s entertainment industry fire on all cylinders. Studios are staffed like any other large enterprise.
After living in Los Angeles for a few months, you'll start to realize how massive the entertainment industry really is. It employs a lot of people, not just the entertainers you see in the spotlight. Your neighbor to the left might be a music composer, and the neighbor to the right might be a studio electrician.
Information Technology and Sciences
The tech scene here is another driver of economic activity. SoCal is home to thousands of internet startups and large, long-time technology powerhouses. Biotech and aerospace companies employ thousands of scientists and technologists. The new-era space travel company, SpaceX, employs over 4,000 people.
SpaceX is Redefining How Space Travel and Privatization
Los Angeles is a major hub for fashion.The downtown Los Angeles Fashion District is home to 100 blocks of independently owned retail and wholesale businesses. You will find designer showrooms, boutique stores, all the way up to the campuses of large apparel companies like GUESS and American Apparel.
Los Angeles is an international city for both cultural diversity and trade. The Port of Los Angeles and Los Angeles International Airport (L.A.X.) move billions of dollars in products and millions of passengers through the area each year.
- The Port of Los Angeles imports and exports $1.2B worth of goods each day.
- The adjoining Port of Long Beach, second in the nation only to the Port of Los Angeles, moves $100B in annual trade.
- Los Angeles International Airport (L.A.X.) moves 75M passengers each year.
Los Angeles Weather
Los Angeles is known around the world as a warm, sunny place. The weather here is a factor that contributes to the area's natural beauty. Hardly a day will pass where you won't spot native exotic flowers such as Bird of Paradise, Jacaranda, Hibiscus, and Bougainvillea. Here's a look at the average monthly temperatures in L.A., high and low.
Monthly Average Temperatures in Los Angeles
Many folks don't know that it's a sprawling metropolis built on a desert basin. Without an aqueduct piping millions of gallons of water into the area, Los Angeles would undoubtedly be uninhabitable to millions of its residents. We don't get much rain.
Precipitation Data Courtesy of Weather.com
The L.A. Basin also borders an ocean, which gives it a unique climate, where deserts and oceans collide, and weather systems mashup to create a Mediterranean Climate.
The climate in Los Angeles is best characterized by warm days and cool nights. That's because cooler ocean air moves across the L.A. Basin when the sun goes down, providing a bit of welcome relief during the hotter summer months. Los Angeles is one of the only major cities globally where you can enjoy a comfortable Mediterranean climate year-round.
There are several microclimates, too. The ocean communities like Santa Monica and Malibu are cooler than the inland areas like the San Fernando Valley, which is hotter and drier. Neighborhoods 5 miles apart can vary in temperature by 10 degrees or more. At the same time of day, it could be 65 degrees in Santa Monica, 75 degrees Downtown, and 85 degrees in the inland valleys.
Occasionally, Santa Ana winds kick in and push the area's prevailing winds in the opposite direction, moving air masses from drier inland areas across the L.A. Basin to the Pacific Ocean. Santa Ana winds are active mainly in the fall months and bring drier air (i.e., very low humidity) to the city. Fall here is dry and comfortable.
- 292 annual days of sunshine
- 35 annual days of rain
- 72 degrees average daily temperature
Fog and Smog
Angelinos sometimes wake up to foggy skies created by ocean air that moves inland and settles over the basin at night. Fog typically burns off by mid-day, depending on how near or far you live from the ocean. The extra moisture in the air combines with car exhaust to produce the region's infamous smog.
Due to aggressive California emission standards, there's much less smog here than in the 1960s and 70s. Days of thick, dense, brown smog layers are fewer and farther between than in the recent past. The former era of itching and tearing eyes is mostly a thing of the past. However, low to medium air quality is a fact of life here. One hopes that the widespread adoption of electric vehicles continues at a vigorous pace and that low emission cars and truck contribute to even further air quality improvements.
Things to Do in Los Angeles
The always-sunny weather in Los Angeles inspires people to get outside. As a world-class city, living in Los Angeles means you can also get your fill of art, music, and culture. Whatever you're into - indoor or outdoor activities - you can find them here. Any day or night of the week, one can find something to do in Los Angeles.
Southern California Beaches
After moving to Los Angeles, one of the first things people take advantage of is venturing to a local beach. Beaches are perfect for running, walking, cycling, volleyball, surfing, or rollerblading. If you just want to pull up a lawn chair and read a book or get a tan, that's okay, too. Malibu Beach is great for celebrity sightings, Venice Beach for people-watching, and Manhattan Beach for surfing.
The Los Angeles Basin is surrounded and divided by mountain ranges. The Santa Monica Mountains split L.A. County into sections north and south, while the San Gabriel Range borders the Eastern edge. You can go from 9 feet below sea level to heights of 10,800 feet with a short drive and little hiking.
Angelinos love hiking. Runyon Canyon is perfect for a quick glute workout but can get crowded. You'll find more space, fewer crowds, and 53 miles of trails in Griffith Park. No matter where you hike, the trails in Los Angeles reward you with incredible views. There are over 300 public parks in the Santa Monica Mountains, so no one is going to run out of room to roam anytime soon. People new to the area are often surprised at the open and available space set aside for public use. The image below shows the Santa Monica Mountains from the Pacific Palisades to Glendale.
Los Angeles is More Verdant Than Most People Expect
Griffith Park is 4,310 acres of fun. It's home to Los Angeles Zoo, Greek Theatre, Griffith Observatory, and the Hollywood Sign. Much of the park is untamed, and you can cross paths with wild quail, rodents, spiders, foxes, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and deer. You might even see a mountain lion. If hiking isn't your cup of tea, horseback tours are available daily.
Each Los Angeles neighborhood has its flavor of fun, from West Hollywood and The Sunset Strip to the recently revitalized Downtown Los Angeles (D.T.L.A.).
Music fans might get lucky and catch big, well-known national bands playing smaller clubs on "The Strip" made famous in the 1960s. Rock out at clubs like Whisky-A-Go-Go, The Rainbow, and Troubadour. If you don't catch your favorite band ripping up a small club, know that every artist on tour stops in L.A. Whether at a small club or a big venue like Hollywood Bowl, if your favorite band is touring, they are playing here.
Or maybe you’d rather take things into your own hands and sing your heart out at a karaoke bar in Koreatown?
If you’re a fan of classic cocktails (e.g., a properly made Manhattan or Old Fashioned) and dimly lit art deco rooms, moving to Los Angeles could make you very happy. Downtown is where the best bartenders in the city ply their craft. If you're fortunate, someone might let you into a modern speakeasy.
Art & Culture
L.A. County is home to 100 museums and ranges from those specializing in fine art to La Brea Tar Pits, where you can see fossilized dinosaur bones.
Large music venues include Disney Concert Hall (home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic) and the very popular Hollywood Bowl and Greek Theatre.
Getty Center (“The Getty”) is one of the world’s largest art organizations a favorite museum for many Angelinos. Housed on a 24-acre hilltop campus overlooking the L.A. Basin, The Getty is home to two things: 1) One of the best views of Los Angeles, and 2) A world-class art collection. Best of all, it's free! An enormous trust maintains the Getty. All you have to do is pay for parking, then hop on a tram ride up the hill. People spend the whole day taking in fantastic art and city views.
Find Exceptional Art and Views at The Getty Center
You can also catch plays and musical productions at Pantages Theater, Ahmanson Theatre, and Geffen Playhouse. Smaller theaters dot the city where you can see up-and-coming performers as well.
Spend an evening perusing local art galleries and rubbing elbows with artists at any one of 16 art walks in the area.
Sports Teams in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is home to collegiate and professional sports teams. If you love attending live sporting events, you’ll have plenty of choices living in Los Angeles.
Football - Do you like tailgating and spending a Saturday afternoon watching college football? Catch Pac-12 Conference powerhouses U.S.C. Trojans or U.C.L.A. Bruins tear up the turf in The Coliseum or Rose Bowl, their respective home fields. If N.F.L. is more your style, you can cheer for the Los Angeles Rams or Los Angeles Chargers.
The Rose Bowl is home to the UCLA Bruins and the Annual Rose Bowl Game
Baseball - Los Angeles has been home to the Dodgers since 1957. Baseball games are a relaxing way to enjoy a warm summer night, cold beer and a Dodger Dog, the official team hot dog, and a decades-long tradition.
Basketball - Los Angeles is home to three professional basketball teams. N.B.A. teams Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers are crosstown rivals, both competing in the N.B.A.'s Western Conference, Pacific Division. They share the same home court with the W.N.B.A. team, Los Angeles Sparks. The arena downtown is modern and comfortable, with several V.I.P. amenities for sporting events and concerts.
Hockey - L.A. Kings is another noteworthy hometown team. If you're moving to Los Angeles from the East Coast, you won't have to give up live hockey. West Coast fans are die-hard supporters.
Soccer - If professional soccer is your cup of tea, pick from one of two M.L.S. teams, L.A. Galaxy (chartered in 1996) or Los Angeles FC (charted in 2014).
The sports scene in Los Angeles is so extensive and diverse; you might even find yourself attending a Polo match or taking in an evening of Roller Derby!
Moving to Los Angeles gives you access to exceptional post-secondary academic institutions. L.A. is home to world-class universities and colleges. Schools here lead the way in research and academic disciplines. L.A. is a great place to earn your college degree or beef up your curriculum vitae with a master's or doctoral degree. Here are the big-time post-secondary schools in Los Angeles::
- University of Southern California (USC)
- University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
- California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
Annual Events in Los Angeles
When L.A. throws a party, the whole world watches, even before moving to Los Angeles, you'll know many of the city's annual events by name. L.A is host to major entertainment award shows, like the Oscars, no doubt you've watched on T.V.
But did you know L.A. is home to the largest Halloween party in the world? West Hollywood’s Halloween Carnaval draws an estimated 500,000 revelers to Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Get decked out in your Halloween costume and join the party!!
Here's a rundown of some of the significant annual events in Los Angeles:
- L.A. Marathon
- Tournament of Roses Parade
- Rose Bowl Game
- Golden Globe Awards
- Grammy Awards
- Academy Awards
- NoHo Theatre & Arts Festival
- L.A. Film Festival
- L.A. Pride Festival
- July 4th Fireworks Spectacular - Hollywood Bowl
- Emmy Awards
- Halloween Carnaval - West Hollywood
- L.A. Auto Show
- Hollywood Christmas Parade
25,000 Runners Participate in the L.A. Marathon
More Interesting Facts About Living in Los Angeles
- From 1901 and 1963, before L.A. became known for massive freeways jammed with cars, it had a complete streetcar system, the Los Angeles Railway.
- Built in 1901 and billed as the "shortest railway in the world," the 298-foot Angels Flight still operates today. You can even use your Metro pass to pay for the short ride up the hill from L.A.'s Historic Core to Bunker Hill.
- Capital Records is located in the world’s first circular office building, designed to look like a stack of LP records. The topmost light on its rooftop blinks in Morse code and spells "H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D.”
- The Hollywood Sign was originally an advertisement for a real estate development in the Hollywood Hills from 1923 to 1949. The L-A-N-D letters are obviously no longer there but the neighborhood below in Beachwood Canyon still bears the name Hollywoodland. A trust maintains the sign.
- Griffith Park is one of the largest municipal parks in North America, sporting 53 miles of hiking trails and even has a horse ranch. You can take a horseback tour seven days a week.
- Griffith Observatory has working telescopes. After the sun goes down, visitors can take a turn viewing the rings of Saturn. It’s also where the Apollo astronauts learned how to navigate the stars.
- L.A.'s steepest street has a 33% grade. It should remain the steepest for a very long time because the city has limited street grades to about 15% since the 1950s.
Final Thoughts: Moving to Los Angeles
Hopefully, after reading this, you'll conclude that Los Angeles is neither monolithic in terms of the people who live here nor the work they do. The landscape is not a barren, urban jungle of concrete and cars. Angelinos find the city quite livable and downright fun and exciting. There are many museums, activities, sights, sounds, and foods to discover and enjoy. Living in Los Angeles is never dull.